Jul 22 2019

Stop Blaming Music for Worship Conflict

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One Trick PonyWe often blame music for what only a healthier biblical theology of worship can fix. The sole emphasis on music as the primary worship offering may have actually hindered worship understanding and exacerbated worship conflicts.

The origin of the idiom “One Trick Pony” goes back to the days of the traveling circus. A trained pony or small horse was used as a main circus attraction. Without any other acts or animals, these small circuses were often criticized as only offering a one-trick pony.

The idiom is now used to identify a person or organization that only does one thing. And it often suggests an inflexibility or inability to learn or consider anything else.

Music has devolved into worship’s one trick pony. We’ve dressed it up, dressed it down, changed its direction and adjusted its speed. We’ve even tried a younger rider for the pony. But it’s still the same trick. Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it isn’t the only expression.

Scripture

Worship begins with the Word, not our song set. Scripture must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own. Biblical text must organically yield our songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language.

Prayer

Worship service prayer has been relegated to the role of a service utility infielder. It is often plugged into worship service holes as a musical connector rather than a divine conversation that actually gives us a reason to sing in the first place.

Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist

Congregations try to create community in their song sets that already exists and is waiting for them at the Table. Observing this ordinance as supplemental instead of foundational might cause us to miss the vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion with each other unified in our identity and relationships only present there.

The Arts

Churches that won’t take the risks to provide a venue for creatives to express art beyond predictable musical expressions will lose them to places that will. Art beyond music is often seen as an extra offering meant for those who can resonate with it, rather than something essential to the shaping of our faith and worship expressions.[1]

As worship leaders we must be willing to educate, enlighten and exhort our congregations to move beyond music as our only worship contribution. And when we do, maybe it will alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the solitary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

 

[1] Adapted from Robin M. Jensen, The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 2.

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Jul 8 2019

The False Dichotomy of Choosing Worship Sides

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dividedA false dichotomy is the belief that if one thing is true, then another one can’t be. This comparison is typically used to force a selection between one side or another by making the assumption they are two opposing positions. So either/or options are initiated in order to elevate one side over the other or to coerce participants to choose.

Even after a couple of decades, opposing or contrasting views are still being openly expressed and written about when it comes to worship styles, especially hymns or modern worship songs. Those dialogues perpetuate either/or dichotomies by attempting to elevate one side at the expense of the other. The use of all encompassing statements such as “modern worship songs are trite” or “hymns are archaic” continue to perpetuate the conflict. And those 7-11 monikers and old time religion epithets that are neither funny nor accurate exacerbate the right/wrong and good/bad worship comparisons that are still dividing churches.

Defending one by criticizing the other is actually an act of self-defense so it’s usually preferential, not theological. Attempting to protect our favorite hymns or modern worship songs by vilifying the other can actually have the opposite effect of marginalizing the one we are trying to protect. If they really need our feeble attempts to prop them up, then are they actually viable options? If, however, both can stand on their own merit as many of us believe they can, then they will endure in spite of our criticisms and defenses.

We have a tendency to compare and contrast God’s artistry based on our own musical history, practical experiences and preferences. So limiting art to only what we know and like assumes He only likes what we know. False worship dichotomies discount God’s calling for us to create and offer new art in response to His diverse revelations. And since those callings are so unique to our contexts and cultures, how can our new art responses be contained in one generation or genre?

Modern worship songs or hymns and what follows them are here to stay. So instead of defending one by maligning the other, we should be praying that the peace of Christ would keep them and us in tune with each other. And we should pray that our unity instead of theological and stylistic aspersions could lead us to places way beyond our previous identities and imaginations.

Hymns and modern worship songs aren’t mutually exclusive, so it is not necessary to choose one over the other. And as long as we are filtering them according to theology instead of partiality they can both live in harmony and compatibility as worship allies instead of adversaries. When they do we’ll discover what it means to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one mind and one voice (Rom 15:6).

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Jul 3 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 17 2019

Childish Responses to Worship Change

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When the disciples asked Jesus who the greatest is in the kingdom of heaven, he responded by calling a little child and asking him to stand among them. Then he said, “Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest” (Matt 18:1-4).

When churches start discussing worship change the humble character of the congregants is often one of the first things to go. Character is the outward manifestation of our inward nature or qualities. It isn’t innate so it must be learned and practiced or it’s easily forgotten or ignored, especially when we don’t get our way. Character indicates who we really are even when conflict arises.

The character of children could help the rest of us remember and relearn some of those forgotten traits when we’re facing worship change that is not always our preference.

Wonder – Worship should cause us to be curious, fascinated, surprised and captivated. Children radiate these characteristics, we seldom do. Wide-eyed worship wonder has been replaced by the controlled and scripted. We are rarely wowed, amazed or awed. As adults we have transformed the wonder of God into a scheduled event that is explainable and rational.

Cooperation – Children learn early that always expecting to get your way, being a bully, not resolving conflict with kind words, not considering the needs of others and not seeing things from another’s point of view are not an option. When our worship practices move too quickly or not quick enough toward change we’ve forgotten how to share and play fair.

Tolerance – Children seem to have a higher capacity to accept differences than we do. They learn intolerance from us. Churches need to invert that practice. Worship intolerance is often manifested musically and stylistically. Tolerance doesn’t cause us to compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often asks us to accommodate culturally, contextually and systematically.

Resilience – Resilience is that childhood elasticity that allows them to recover quickly from radical change. It’s the willingness to give things a try with an attitude of flexibility. Worship resilience averts relational and theological catastrophe through a culture of pliability. Pliability allows worshipers to weather change without getting bent out of shape.

When considering how we’ll respond the next time our worship changes we just need to be reminded what we once learned as a child. And when we do, it will certainly give us new meaning to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6).

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May 22 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 13 2019

20 Worship Service Irrefutables

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Worship Service Irrefutables

  1. It isn’t trivial just because you use a worship band.
  2. It isn’t archaic just because you use an orchestra.
  3. The opening song doesn’t start it.
  4. The closing song doesn’t stop it.
  5. An older expression doesn’t imply it’s stale.
  6. A newer expression doesn’t imply it’s fresh.
  7. It’s not theologically profound because you use hymns.
  8. It’s not theologically trite because you use modern songs.
  9. A younger leader doesn’t cause it to be relevant.
  10. An older leader doesn’t cause it to be passé.
  11. Changing it won’t automatically make your church grow.
  12. Keeping it the same won’t inevitably make your church decline.
  13. Using technology can complement it.
  14. Using technology can distract from it.
  15. It’s not participative just because you’re leading it with a choir.
  16. It’s not passive just because you’re leading it with a worship team.
  17. Dressing up for it doesn’t make it sacred.
  18. Dressing down for it doesn’t make it irreverent.
  19. Music isn’t a necessity for it.
  20. Music can certainly enhance it.
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May 8 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 6 2019

35 Questions First Time Worship Guests Are Probably Asking

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We are often good at considering worship details during the services but don’t always consider worship distractions before and after those services. We assume the theological depth of our worship will encourage first time visitors to return and even stay. And that might actually be true if they could ever see past our spatial and structural blind spots.

We’ve all heard the adage about only getting one shot at a first impression. So in addition to evaluating sermons and songs, we should also evaluate our worship spaces and structures. Those first time guests are inevitably asking themselves questions about their worship service visits. If we ask those same questions preemptively before they visit, then maybe their answers will be positive ones when they actually do visit.

Questions First Time Worship Guests Are Probably Asking

  1. Was it easy for us to park?
  2. Was it clear where we were supposed to go once we parked?
  3. Was the building in good repair and were the grounds well kept?
  4. When were we first greeted, if ever?
  5. Did the attitude of the greeter make us feel welcome?
  6. Were we offered coffee and was it excellent, mediocre or bad?
  7. Were the foyer colors and decorations outdated?
  8. Did it seem like people were happy to be there?
  9. Were the handouts timely and of excellent quality?
  10. Was the restroom clean and odor free?
  11. Did we feel safe leaving our child in the children’s area?
  12. How did we figure out where to sit in the worship center?
  13. Did we feel conspicuous?
  14. Was the worship center seating comfortable?
  15. Was there enough light?
  16. Was the temperature at a comfortable level?
  17. Did anyone dress or look like us?
  18. How was the volume of the speaking and music?
  19. Did the leaders use language we didn’t understand?
  20. How was the service flow and pace?
  21. Did the service seem too long?
  22. Was the worship service order easy to follow or confusing?
  23. Was it easy to participate musically?
  24. Was the music presented with excellence?
  25. Was the music culturally relevant for us?
  26. Were the video projection elements presented with excellence?
  27. Did we feel welcome to participate in all worship elements?
  28. Was the sermon easy to follow and meaningful?
  29. Did any of the service elements make us feel uncomfortable?
  30. Did anything in the service distract us?
  31. Did we know what to do when the worship service was over?
  32. Did anyone speak to us after the service?
  33. Were the members friendly, unfriendly or disinterested?
  34. Did the leaders seem approachable?
  35. Will we come back based on our observations?
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May 1 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 1 2019

Take Courage Worship Leader…He Is Able!

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he is ableWhen worship ministry feels like being caught in the force of a riptide that pulls you away from the safety of shore; When the swift current regularly drags you under, rolls you on the sandy bottom, scratches up your elbows and knees and fills your swim trunks with sand; When it seems to take longer each time for the current to lose its strength, release you and allow you to swim to shore;

Remember to take courage in the assurance that He Is Able to do above and beyond all that you ask or think according to the power that works in you (Eph. 3:20).

Take Courage…

  • When no generation is ever really happy musically…He is able.
  • When your ministry shelf life is moving toward the expiration date because you are no longer young enough or trim enough…He is able.
  • When you are always a step behind musically, technologically and culturally…He is able.
  • When you are tempted to quit every Monday morning…He is able.
  • When you wish you served someplace, anyplace else…He is able.
  • When you are always the first one to arrive and last one to leave…He is able.
  • When no amount of rehearsal can make your group presentable…He is able.
  • When staff collaboration actually means silent obedience…He is able.
  • When needed change is never well received…He is able.
  • When you feel like no one is holding your rope as you start to slip…He is able.
  • When date night with your spouse is the worship team potluck…He is able.
  • When you feel like you are missing out on your children’s lives…He is able.
  • When you have been terminated for any or no reason…He is able.
  • When your creativity has been exhausted and burnout is causing you to coast…He is able.
  • When you don’t have the resolve to take care of yourself spiritually, physically and emotionally…He is able.

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24-25).

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Mar 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 18 2019

Why Our Worship Service Songs Can’t Cause Worship

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Cause and Effect is a relationship in which a person, action or thing makes another thing, action or event occur. A cause must always precede an effect in order for that effect to occur. So the effect is then a consequence of the cause.

God’s revelation (cause) is when He offers us a glimpse of His activity, His will, His attributes, His judgment, His discipline, His comfort, His hope and His promises. Our response (effect) is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes premeditated reply to that revelation…worship.

A model for this cause and effect worship understanding is found in Isaiah 6:1-8. The holiness of God is revealed (cause) to the prophet Isaiah and his natural worship response is contrition (effect), “Woe is me, for I am ruined” (Isaiah 6:5). God revealed his mercy (cause) and Isaiah’s worship response is service (effect), “Here am I. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

If our worship responses are the effect, then it is not possible for those worship actions to also be the cause. What we sing or how we sing it can’t cause a response because it is the response. The cause…God’s revelation can’t be generated by the effect since the effect is a response to the cause. So as good as our various worship actions are, they still can’t cause worship to occur because those worship actions are the effect.

Our worship actions may prompt, remind, exhort, prod or encourage more effect but they can’t cause cause. We can acknowledge the cause but we can’t generate it. We can respond to the cause but we can’t initiate it. We can celebrate the cause but we can’t create it.

He has called us (cause) out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare (effect) His praises (1 Peter 2:9). The Father is seeking (cause) the kind of worshipers who worship (effect) in spirit and truth (John 4:23). God Causes…We Effect.

Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce (cause) worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right methods (effect), we can have the best possible liturgy (effect), but we have not worshiped the Lord until His Spirit (cause) touches our spirit.[1]

 


[1] Adapted from Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1978).

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Mar 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 11 2019

But…We Like It Here

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Break Camp
Some churches are trying to reach the culture by offering a mediocre imitation of what that culture already has…usually a few notches below in quality or a few steps after culture has moved onto something else. But is impersonating the practices of a culture that doesn’t know what it needs to reach a culture that doesn’t know what it needs the best we have to offer? Maybe it’s time for some of our churches to break camp and Cross the Rubicon.

In 49 BC, Julius Caesar led a single legion of troops across the Rubicon River in order to make their way to Rome. This bold move was considered an act of insurrection since Roman generals were prohibited from bringing troops into the home territory of the Republic. If Caesar and his men failed to triumph, they would all be executed. The edge of the Rubicon is said to be the place where Caesar uttered the famous phrase, alea iacta est – the die is cast.

Caesar and his men determined that this point of no return was worth the risk. Their boldness ultimately protected Rome from civil war and also ensured the punishment for their actions would never be necessary. The idiom Crossing the Rubicon now refers to an individual or group willing to radically commit to a revolutionary and risky course of action when playing it safe won’t get the job done.

If churches want to fulfill the Great Commission they can no longer stay here when God has called them to go there, even when some still like it here. So as painful as it may be, they can’t let those who refuse to break camp here keep their church from going there even if it means leaving some here. Going there requires the entrepreneurial innovation of an artisan even when the routinized imitation of an assembly line worker is more certain and comfortable.

When churches commit together to break camp, go all in, refuse to retreat and cross their Rubicon they will then “speak to and among the surrounding culture in a voice so unique, authentic, and unified that it turns heads: ‘what was that? It sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I’ve never heard anything like that around here.’ Even though those responses from the culture will often come as ridicule, they might just as often come as inquiry. Either way…the church will be influencing culture instead of just reflecting it.”[1]

 

[1] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 39.

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Feb 25 2019

Steeplejacking Worship

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steeplejackingSteeplejacking is a coined term that describes the attempt to infiltrate, influence and take-over an existing congregation. In the corporate world steeplejacking could be compared to a hostile takeover. It is often initiated by marginalizing what a congregation has done or is presently doing in order to coerce it into making radical changes.

It is irrefutable that adjustments to worship practices are often necessary as a church considers the cultures and contexts of those present and those not present yet. But in an effort to initiate some of those changes, leaders sometimes push to do anything different than what is being done presently. The consequence is those who have been around for a while feel as if they are losing the church they have known and loved. So even when change motives are pure, it still seems like their church is being steeplejacked.

Many of those congregational veterans are probably not that averse to all worship change but are just feeling sidelined as those changes are being considered without them. It seems to them that their opinions are no longer considered and their convictions are overlooked as antiquated. So their decades of blood, sweat, tears and tithes are facing foreclosure and eviction.

The automatic assumption is that worship change always requires incorporating something completely new. So churches are often good at asking revolutionary questions like, “What’s broken and how do we fix it?” But maybe they should also be asking reevaluation questions like, “What’s working and how can we do more of it?”[1]

A revolution forcibly overthrows an existing system or structure in order to substitute another. It replaces what presently exists without considering what might still hold value. And in a revolution one side always loses.

A reevaluation, however, examines something again. Reevaluation allows a congregation to consider change by rethinking, revisiting and reinvestigating. It systematically and selectively preserves valuable elements for re-use.

Prayerfully adding to existing worship practices instead of arbitrarily taking them away could allow churches to initiate needed changes without the unnecessary pain of steeplejacking. Then it’s possible those changes would be approached by all as an opportunity instead of a threat or a cause for celebration instead of a reason to despair.[2]

 

[1] Heath, Chip and Dan Heath, Switch:  How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 55.

[2] Craig A. Satterlee, When God Speaks through Change (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2005),

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Feb 11 2019

Worship and Experiential Consumerism

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Marketers have realized that consumers no longer just want to buy a product; they also want to buy an experience with that product. In fact, sometimes more emphasis is placed on the experience than the product. Think about some of those pizza arcades where you celebrated your children’s birthdays. Fortunately the experience was memorable because the pizza certainly wasn’t. Instead of just purchasing a cup of coffee we also now want the experience of purchasing a cup of coffee. We are even willing to pay extra for the sights, sounds and smells with an added experiential bonus if the barista knows our name.

Marketing is an intentional process of identifying who the consumer is, determining the wants and needs of that consumer and offering a product that satisfies those wants and needs in order to secure their loyalties better than competitors do.

Some of us plan and lead worship the same way.

In an effort to entice more participation, churches offer worship service preferential experiences to get consumers in the door, sometimes even at the expense of quality or honesty. Those marketing headlines attract visitors with hooks such as traditional, contemporary, blended, friendly, family, fellowship, multisensory, relevant, modern, casual, classic or even coffee. But when guests realize worship is something you give, not something you get, how will we encourage them to stay? If we market just by catering to experiential tastes, what will we offer when those tastes change?

We can experience a fine meal. We can experience a baseball game, concert or an amusement park. An experience is an event or occurrence. In fact we even call what we do on Sunday a worship experience. But an experience is something that is done to us or for us. Worship is something we do.

We don’t experience worship…we experience God. Our response to that experience is worship. We can experience the many facets of God inside or outside a worship service but the experience or encounter is not worship, our response is. So a worship service built on an experience alone is shortsighted if it never allows us an opportunity to respond.

God’s revelation (experience) is when he offers us a glimpse of his activity, his will, his attributes, his judgment, his discipline, his comfort, his hope and his promises. Our response is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes prepared reply to that experience…worship.

Depending on worship as an experience can cause us to be satisfied with the sensations elicited by that experience. Consequently, we might select and sing certain songs or even styles of songs because of the experience and then never move beyond that experience to worship. The end result of experiential consumerism is that our songs and sermons must create and recreate that same experience each week or worshipers will leave our services believing worship couldn’t and didn’t occur.

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Feb 6 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 4 2019

Give Me A Break!

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Yoke
In 2005, a store called MinneNAPolis opened in Minnesota’s Mall of America. It rented comfy spots where weary shoppers could take naps for only 70 cents a minute. The new store included themed rooms such as Asian Mist, Tropical Isle and Deep Space. The walls were thick enough to drown out the sounds of the mall outside. The company’s website said, “Escape the pressures of the real world into the pleasures of an ideal one.” “It’s not just napping,” read the press release. “Some guests will want to listen to music, put their feet up, watch the water trickling in the beautiful stone waterfall, breathe in the positive-ionization-filtered air, enjoy the full-body massager and just take an enjoyable escape from the fast-paced lifestyle.”

Sunday isn’t a day of rest for those of us with worship leading responsibilities. Some of us are probably wondering if we have enough in the tank to do it all again next week. So if Sunday isn’t our Sabbath, when is? Most worship team players and singers are volunteers with full-time jobs outside of their worship leading responsibilities. So they don’t have the freedom to take off the Monday after or Friday before Sunday like some of those in full-time ministry do. So if we don’t establish a regular rhythm of rotating players and singers in to allow them to catch their breath, then how can we expect them to lead others to a place they no longer have the spiritual, emotional or physical resolve to go themselves?

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). Offering permission for regular rhythms of rest means we are helping each other remove our self-made yokes.

The word rest in this passage is better translated as refreshment. As a college student I worked a couple of summers installing aluminum siding, screen rooms and even an aluminum swimming pool enclosure. The pool enclosure was installed around and over a pre-existing pool that was full of water. Screws driven into the structure with powered screw guns held the aluminum joists and panels together. Inevitably some of the screws fell into the pool. So it was my job to dive into the pool several times each day to retrieve those screws so they wouldn’t clog up the pool filter and drain system. I certainly understood that word rest for a few minutes in the July Oklahoma heat.

Refresh means to renew, revive or reinvigorate. Refreshment is not idleness, it isn’t exemption from responsibilities and it’s not laziness or a free pass. It is instead an intentional deep calming physical and spiritual peace. Isaiah also spoke of this kind of rest, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding. He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”

Jesus wasn’t challenging us to do something he didn’t practice himself. He said, “Learn from me” (Matt 11:29). After feeding the five thousand he perceived that the crowd would try to come and take him by force to make Him King. The text says Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself to be alone (John 6:15). Indicating he had been there before. After John the Baptist was beheaded Jesus encouraged the disciples who had been working very hard and were grieving to “Come away by yourselves and rest for a while” (Mark 6:31).

It is evident in chapter 12 of Matthew that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, we aren’t. Chapter 11 ends with him reminding us take his yoke because it is easy and his burden is light (Matt 11:29-30). A good yoke is formed to the shape of the neck of the oxen. It should cover a large area of skin to distribute the stresses widely. It is smooth, rounded and polished with no sharp edges so that no point will endure too much stress. When the yoke fits perfectly, the oxen can haul heavy loads for years and their skin will remain healthy, with no pressures sores. This text is a great reminder for us to lead worship with margins of recovery by bearing his yoke instead of those stressful burdens of our own making.

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Jan 30 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 28 2019

Secret Shopper

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Secret Shopper

 

Most of us couldn’t imagine leaving our children at a daycare that has stained carpet, musty odors, garage sale reject toys and old sound equipment stacked in the corner. But that is exactly what some churches offer to young parents and then wonder why they never return. The nursery and children’s areas should be the safest and cleanest rooms in the building. How can we expect parents to engage and understand meaningful worship at the same time they’re worried about the safety and health of their children?

My ministry responsibilities often require me to regularly drive some of the same roads. So I’m pretty familiar with the rest stops along those routes. I know the ones I’ll stop at again and the ones I’ll never return to because they’re always filthy, never have the necessary supplies and have archaic or often broken plumbing fixtures. We don’t like to talk about the cleanliness of our restrooms at church but that is the last place many worshipers visit before we ask them to join us in singing the first worship song.

We are often good at considering how to engage people during the services but don’t always think about worship distractions before and after those services. We assume the theological depth of our worship service will encourage visitors to return and even stay. And that might actually be true if they could ever see past our pre and post service blind spots.

So in addition to evaluating sermons and songs, churches should also evaluate their worship spaces and structures. We’ve all heard the adage about only getting one shot at a first impression. Since it’s easy to overlook what we’ve gotten used to, it is helpful to secure an outside evaluator for a greater degree of unbiased and unprejudiced objectivity. Retailers and restaurants often enlist outside patrons or shoppers to collect information about their establishment. They evaluate things like the appearance of displays, friendliness and efficiency of the staff, cleanliness of restrooms, prices and the quality of their products.

Churches could also learn a lot about themselves by enlisting a secret shopper. A friend from another congregation, an acquaintance from the community or even your favorite coffee shop barista could be enlisted as a secret shopper. For the minimal expense of presenting them with a restaurant gift card you could invite one or several guests to visit and complete an evaluation questionnaire like the one below.

Considering the above items and others might seem inconsequential compared to understanding spirit and truth worship. But guests often visit with little or no understanding of theological worship. They do, however, understand excellence, cleanliness, the safety of their children and their own comfort or its absence. So isn’t it worth the effort to remove some of those initial distractions that could be keeping them from going deeper?

Secret Shopper Questionnaire

  • Was it easy to get into the parking lot and convenient to park?

Observations:

  • Was it clear where you were supposed to go once you arrived?

Observations:

  • Was the property in good repair and grounds well kept?

Observations:

  • When were you first greeted, if ever?

Observations:

  • Did the attitude of the greeter make you feel welcome?

Observations:

  • Were you offered coffee and was it excellent, mediocre or bad?

Observations:

  • Were the foyer colors and decorations outdated?

Observations:

  • Did it seem like people were happy to be there and glad to be together?

Observations:

  • Were the handouts timely and of excellent quality?

Observations:

  • Was the restroom clean and odor free?

Observations:

  • Did you feel safe leaving your child in the children’s ministry area?

Observations:

  • Was the worship space interesting and pleasing to the eye?

Observations:

  • How did you figure out where to sit?

Observations:

  • Did you feel conspicuous when you entered the worship space?

Observations:

  • Was the worship center seating comfortable?

Observations:

  • Was there enough light?

Observations:

  • Was the temperature at a comfortable level?

Observations:

  • Did anyone dress or look like you?

Observations:

  • How was the volume of the speaking and music?

Observations:

  • Did the leaders use language you didn’t understand?

Observations:

  • How was the service flow and pace?

Observations:

  • Did the service seem too long?

Observations:

  • Was the worship service order easy to follow or confusing?

Observations:

  • Was it easy to participate musically?

Observations:

  • Was the music presented with excellence?

Observations:

  • Was the music culturally relevant for the people present?

Observations:

  • Were the video projection elements presented with excellence?

Observations:

  • Did you feel welcome to participate in all worship service elements?

Observations:

  • Was the sermon easy to follow and meaningful?

Observations:

  • Did any of the service elements make you feel uncomfortable?

Observations:

  • Did anything in the service distract you?

Observations:

  • How did you know what to do when the worship service was over?

Observations:

  • Did anyone speak to you after the service?

Observations:

  • Were the members friendly, unfriendly or disinterested?

Observations:

  • Did the leaders seem approachable?

Observations:

  • Any additional observations?

Observations:

  • Would you come back based on your observations?

Observations:

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Jan 14 2019

Enabling Mindless Worshipers

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MindlessIf our church services give the impression that worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it; If all worship resources and energies are spent preparing for and presenting a single hour on Sunday; If we aren’t exhorting our congregation and modeling for them how to worship not only when they gather but also when they leave; Then we are enabling mindless worshipers.

In Teaching A Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard wrote, “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, watching the radar screen, noting weather reports radioed from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things.”[1]

Jesus’ greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and also love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi was whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy or worth our worship…we should think about such things (Phil 4:8).

Worshiping with our minds allows us to approach worship with knowledge, insight, reason, memory, creativity, inquiry, imagination and even doubt. So if we offer our prayers superficially; if we read and listen to Scripture texts mindlessly; if we gather at the Lord’s Supper Table hastily; and if we only sing our songs emotionally; the end result is often mindless worship.

We could learn a lot from the Jews who believe the Sabbath begins at sundown. Then the activities and things with which we fill our minds the night before we gather could better frame our worship attitudes on the Sabbath.

My daughter was five years old the first time our family vacationed at Disney World. After months of planning and days of travel, the final preparations for and anticipation of the first day at Magic Kingdom was almost too much excitement for her to contain.

Like a firefighter, she selected and laid out her clothes the night before so she could jump into them the next morning. Sleep eluded her with the anticipation of what was to come. She awakened early, quickly dressed and inhaled breakfast so she would be ready to depart hours before the park even opened.

All conversation traveling from our resort to the park entrance centered on what she would observe, experience, eat, participate in, enjoy and then take home at the end of the day. She had been thinking about it, dreaming of it, planning, preparing and longing for it. Her mind was so filled with it she couldn’t contain the anticipation.

Empowering instead of enabling worshipers encourages them to think, behave or take action autonomously. It gives them the permission to take ownership in their own worship responses to God’s revelation at the moment in which it occurs. Worship empowerment arises from the shallowness of dependency and leads to the full conscious, active and continuous participation of each worshiper.

Worship that doesn’t require us to think is superficial. Worship or love of God and others must be continuous or it becomes self-serving. And it can’t be continuous unless we think about it, consider it, process it, meditate on it, study it and learn how to get better at it in order to better teach others how to do it. So until we move beyond just waiting for the song set to enable us to worship, we’ll never encourage deep calling unto deep worship that also engages our minds.

 

[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 52.

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Dec 17 2018

10 Signs Your Music Is Primary and Worship Secondary

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worship

  1. Right notes are always more important than right relationships.

 

  1. Song choices are always considered musically before they’re filtered theologically.

 

  1. You’re attempting to grow your church just by changing the music.

 

  1. Music has taken the place of prayer as your primary worship service conversation with God.

 

  1. Congregants give music all the credit for either causing or curing worship conflict.

 

  1. You’ve sanctified a favorite musical style or genre.

 

  1. Music is foundational but Communion is supplemental.

 

  1. Scripture readings are shortened so the song set can be lengthened.

 

  1. Worship is exclusively synonymous with music.

 

  1. You’re convinced how or what you sing determines if God shows up.
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Dec 5 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 3 2018

Homegrown Worship Leaders

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baseballCongregations tend to plan and implement in the moment since Sunday comes every. single. week. So thinking about finding future players, singers, or even a primary worship leader is rarely a consideration…until a vacancy occurs.

Player development is what Major League Baseball calls the grooming of younger, less advanced players in their minor league system. The so-called farm teams provide mentoring, training, coaching, and practical experience for younger players with the expectation that as a player matures he will advance to a higher level of play and responsibility.

The genius of the farm system is that players get better by playing regularly in smaller venues instead of just waiting for an opening to play in the major leagues. So they are intentionally investing in younger players for the future of the team. A major league team with a weak farm system may have success for a time but will rarely carry that success into the future.

The value of worship player development is realized when a congregation attempts to fill a vacancy. What most find is that the pool of potential replacements out there is often very shallow. Those who are available are often unknown and don’t always resonate with the culture of the searching congregation.

Implementing a farm team model of developing younger, less advanced players from in here can offer a trusted and familiar resource pool for future players, singers, or primary leaders. And investing in those who already understand the culture, personality, worship language, and mission of your church has a greater potential for future success.

If churches want great worship leaders in the future, they must invest in not yet great worship leaders in the present. Imagine then, one of those congregations so effectively implementing this player development model that they are able to groom more worship leaders than they have places for them to serve. Then, imagine the Kingdom value of that congregation getting to farm-out those trained leaders to other congregations who were not as prepared to fill their own vacancies.

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Nov 21 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 14 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 7 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 5 2018

3 Reasons Your Worship Isn’t Good

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What is good

Congregations are constantly trying to discover and create good worship. So they’ve expanded their song catalogs and adjusted their presentation methods in an effort to find a formula that accomplishes that goal. Some just bypass the heavy lifting altogether by imitating the worship practices of other congregations and call it good.

The minor prophet Micah faced similar challenges as he responded to the shallow worship practices evident in the lives of the religious leaders of his day. He vigorously condemned the dishonest, corrupt and meaningless worship prevalent in Judah and Israel.

According to Micah, outward appearances indicated they thought their worship was good. But their worship character wasn’t consistent with what God calls good. So Micah wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

3 Reasons Worship Isn’t Good

  • It doesn’t act justly

If someone says, “I love God, (an act worship) and hates his brother, (also an act of worship) he is a liar” (1 John 4:20a). Worship that acts justly realizes loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength is incomplete until I also love my neighbor as I love myself (Luke 10:27).

Mark Labberton wrote, “The heart of the battle over worship is this: our worship practices are separated from our call to justice and, worse, foster the self-indulgent tendencies of our culture rather than nurturing the self-sacrificing life of the kingdom of God.”[1]

  • It doesn’t love mercy

Mercy is the willingness to sacrifice ones own interests for the greater worshiping good of the congregation. Merciful worship begins by surrendering or sacrificing for the sake of something or someone else. It is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go.

King David understood merciful worship as he responded to God’s command to build an altar so the plague on the people of Israel might be stopped (2 Sam 24:21). At no cost to David, Araunah offered his threshing floor, his oxen and even the wood from the oxen yokes for the burnt offering. The king replied, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24).

  • It doesn’t walk humbly

We often take credit for instigating God’s presence by what we sing and how we sing it and call that good worship. In reality, God started the conversation, was present long before we arrived and has been waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him. He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). The Father seeks the kind of worshipers who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23).

Humble worship allows us to lay aside the unflappable pursuit of our own satisfaction, entertainment, pleasure or routine in order to pursue God and ask Him to reorder our priorities and passions.”[2]

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 22-23.

[2] Ibid., 170.

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Oct 31 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 29 2018

Eugene Peterson on Worship

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Eugene Peterson

 

Eugene Peterson was a pastor, scholar, author and poet. On October 22, he finished his Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He left an indelible mark on various areas of Christian thought, including the following on worship.

 

Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.

 

Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.

 

Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God; it whets our appetite.

 

Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshiped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting.

 

Every call to worship is a call into the real world.

 

The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, “Let us worship God.” If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor.

 

I cannot fail to call the congregation to worship God, to listen to his Word, to offer themselves to God.

 

It’s essential for us to develop an imagination that is participatory. Art is the primary way in which this happens. It’s the primary way in which we become what we see or hear.

 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.

 

A Christian congregation is a company of praying men and women who gather, usually on Sundays, for worship, who then go into the world as salt and light. God’s Holy Spirit calls and forms this people. God means to do something with us, and he means to do it in community. We are in on what God is doing, and we are in on it together. 

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Oct 24 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 22 2018

Feckless Love

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Feckless

Most worship leaders love using their creativity to lead worship. Creativity, however, can be a smoke screen for laziness. Sometimes a love for leading can be feckless, meaning it lacks the strength of character to move beyond creativity to hard work.

Feckless worship leaders love leading worship musically but don’t have the resolve to do the heavy lifting biblically, theologically, relationally and even physically. Consequently, they depend solely on their love for playing and singing on the platform and disregard diligence off the platform.

Thomas Edison said, “People don’t work hard because in their conceit, they imagine they’ll succeed without ever making an effort. Most people believe that they’ll wake up some day and find themselves successful. Actually, they’ve got it half right, because eventually they do wake up.”

Wilson Mizner said, “Work, work, work…the gent who wakes up and finds himself a success hasn’t been asleep.” So your love for leading may help you get that worship job but hard work is going to help you keep it.

Symptoms of feckless worship leaders

  • They spend more time searching files for previously used worship service orders than it would have taken them to create a new one.

 

  • Their song sets are determined exclusively by scanning CCLI’s Top 100, What’s Hot on Praise Charts or the Hymnal.

 

  • They aren’t willing to communicate in newer and older languages of chord charts and choir scores or hymns and modern songs even when the culture of their congregation calls for it.

 

  • They spend Monday through Thursday pondering their creativity but then have to scramble on Friday morning to actually harness it into a worship service for Sunday.

 

  • They imitate the worship sounds, habits, methods, styles, presentations and even attire of other artists or congregations without considering the unique voice of their own congregation.

 

  • They don’t see the need to attend conferences, read books, take additional lessons or dialogue with other worship leaders.

 

  • They don’t take the time to invest in the lives and ministries of younger leaders or train those who will come behind them.

“So much attention is paid to the aggressive sins, such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects, that too little attention is paid to the passive sins, such as apathy and laziness, which in the long run can have a more devastating effect.” Eleanor Roosevelt 

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Oct 15 2018

4 Signs Your Worship Team Has the Sense of a Goose

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gooseIt’s difficult for the worship of your church to be healthy if the relationships of its platform leaders aren’t. Healthy worship teams embrace a unified goal of helping each other help others to worship.

Unhealthy worship teams function as independent contractors who play and perform dependent on their own talent alone. So even if those team members are producing individually, you’ll never experience extraordinary worship leadership until you agree you’re all in this together.

Every fall thousands of geese fly from Canada to the southern part of the United States to escape the bitter cold of winter. Worship teams could better learn how to work together by observing the V-formation flight of these geese.

4 Signs Your Worship Team Has the Sense of a Goose

  • You share leadership with each other

The goose flying in front of the V-formation expends the most energy since it’s the first to break the flow of air that provides lift for the geese that follow. So when the lead goose tires, it moves to the rear of the formation where the resistance is lightest. This rotation happens perpetually throughout their journey. Consequently, each member of the flock serves as a leader as well as a follower.

  • You draft for each other

According to scientists, when the geese fly in a V-formation they create an uplift draft for the bird immediately following. So the entire flock achieves a 71 percent greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own. So they arrive at the destination quicker because they are lifted up by their combined energy and enthusiasm.

  • You cheer for each other

Geese frequently honk as they fly in formation. Scientists speculate this honking is a way to communicate and cheer for each other. Those repeated honks announce all is well as an encouragement to those out front to stay at it and keep on keeping on. They are in essence reminding each other that, “we’re all in this together.”

  • You protect each other

Scientists have discovered that when a goose becomes ill or is injured and has to drop out of the formation, two other geese will also fall out of formation to stay with the weakened goose. And they stay with that goose to protect if from predators until it is either able to fly again or dies.

It’s foundational to the senses of geese to work together. Whether they’re rotating, flapping, honking or helping. Their combined efforts enable them to accomplish what they were created to do.

What could your worship team achieve if you too had the sense of a goose?

Renowned evangelist and preacher, Vance Havner used to say, “Snowflakes are frail little things. But if you get enough of them together they can stop traffic.”

The author of Ecclesiastes said it this way, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up” (Ecc. 4:9-10).

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Oct 10 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 8 2018

Open Letter To Transient Worship Leaders

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transient

Dear Worship Leader,

I have had hundreds of conversations with worship leaders about wanting, needing, or having to relocate. It’s been my observation that a couple of common threads are contributing to this restless desire and/or mandate to find another ministry position. Ironically, neither of those root causes are musical or stylistic issues.

My first observation is there is often confusion between calling and convenience. The primary question you must ask is, “Am I called to do this…not just here, but anywhere?” A calling is a personal invitation from God to carry out a unique task. It is a strong inner impulse prompted by conviction of divine influence and it’s not always convenient.

So what is compelling you to do what you do? Convenience responds with, “This is what I was trained to do.” Calling responds with, “This is what I was created to do.” If you are leading worship just because you love to play and sing; because you need to supplement your income; because you enjoy being up-front or because you are not trained to do anything else, then your compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling.

If, however, you are divinely called to lead worship and believe God also called you to your present place of ministry, then a secondary question you must ask before considering a move is, “Has God released me from my call here?” Even when another place of ministry seems more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding you must be reminded that God did not promise you’d always be happy, revered, loved, appreciated or followed. So, until God releases you to go…stay.

My second observation is that musical talent and platform presence may help you secure a worship leader position but developing leadership skills will help you keep it. In fact, the root cause of forced termination is often relational and rarely musical. And yet, where are you spending most of your worship leadership preparation time? You’ll never be able to teach enough new songs to make up for relationship and leadership failures.

Leading music doesn’t necessarily equate to leading people. Meaningful relationships develop as you place more focus on the people than the project. Don’t leave relationships in your wake as you move toward the end result since the process with people is just as important as the end result. What will your congregants remember most about your worship leadership…how you led them musically on the platform our how you treated them on the way to and from the platform?

It may indeed be time for you to consider a new place of ministry. But that change of venue alone might not settle your restlessness. Until you consider the previous observations and others, you may again experience the same discontent after a couple of years in that new place of ministry.

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Oct 1 2018

Unified Worship: A Tree of 40 Fruit

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40 FruitBeing unified is the state of being united, linked or joined together as one in spite of diversities and differences. Uniformity, on the other hand, is the state or quality of being the same. A healthy worshiping congregation requires unity but not necessarily uniformity.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.”[1]

According to Paul, being unified is “striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27). So we can exercise a variety of different worship gifts, callings and styles and still be unified as long as our root solidarity is not our worship expressions but the gospel.

Art professor Sam Van Aken combined his love for art and farming to develop an incredible Tree of 40 Fruit. In 2008 Van Aken learned that an orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station was about to be shut down because of a lack of funding.

To lose this orchard would render many of these rare fruit varieties extinct. So to preserve them, Van Aken bought the orchard and spent several years chip grafting parts of the many varieties of trees onto a single fruit tree.

In the spring, Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit reveals a stunning patchwork of pink, white, red and purple blossoms, which then produce an array of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds. The roots of each of these trees are united even though the fruit or outward expressions are diverse.

Van Aken indicated that each Tree of 40 Fruit provides the perfect amount and variety of fruit. So rather than having a uniform single variety that produces more fruit than you know what to do with, each tree offers just the right amount of each of the 40 varieties.

The Apostle Paul said it this way to the church at Corinth, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts but one body” (I Cor 12:12, 18-20).

 

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Vancouver, BC: Eremitical Press, 2009), 90.

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Sep 26 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 10 2018

20 Things Worship Leaders Should Say More Often

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Twenty things

20 Things Worship Leaders Should Say More Often

  • Let’s select song keys with a comfortable singing range for the congregation.
  • The band is too loud when we can’t hear the congregation sing.
  • I love studying theology.
  • Let’s sing fewer songs this week to allow more time for Scripture and Prayer.
  • We’ve learned enough new songs for a while.
  • It’s time to learn some new songs.
  • I love my pastor and pray for him daily.
  • We don’t sing songs that aren’t biblically accurate or theologically sound.
  • I can’t do this on my own.
  • Please remain seated if that is more comfortable for you.
  • I am interested in what everyone else thinks.
  • No, that is my family time.
  • That’s too pretentious.
  • Let’s get some feedback from the senior adults.
  • We need to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently.
  • Instead of making changes, let’s get better at what we are already doing.
  • It’s Monday and the worship service is already planned.
  • I never want what I wear to distract or detract from worship.
  • I love it when the house lights are up so I can see their faces.
  • Not every great worship song is great for congregational singing.
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Sep 5 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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worship word

Worship doesn’t invite

God’s presence,

it acknowledges it.

 

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Aug 27 2018

Robert Webber Ancient-Future Worship Quotes

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ancient futureIn his Ancient-Future book series, Robert E. Webber wrote of his longing to discover the roots of our faith. He affirmed Scripture as foundational and the final authority in matters of faith and practice, including worship. Webber also desired unity in the church so he referenced sources from the entire history of the church. And he argued that our road to the future is not an innovative new start, but a future that runs through the past.

The following quotes are taken from Ancient-Future Worship in that series. In this book, as you will see from these selected quotes, Webber outlines how worship does God’s story.[1]

 

“We experience God in more than songs and segues.”

 

“Worship proclaims, enacts and sings God’s story.”

 

“Worship is not a program. Nor is worship about me. Worship is a narrative – God’s narrative of the world from its beginning to its end. How will the world know its own story unless we do that story in public worship?”

 

“Not only does worship point to the culmination of all history in the new heavens and new earth, but it also shapes the ethical behavior of God’s people to reflect kingdom ethics here on earth.”

 

“In many of our churches today there is a neglect of remembrance in worship. It arises from the loss of attention to the whole Bible. A shift has taken place toward a focus on therapeutic or inspirational preaching and to the rise of entertainment or presentational worship.”

 

“One does not need to become liturgical to become more biblical in worship.”

 

“Worship is not that which I do, but that which is done in me.”

 

“God, through worship, works on me through his story to elicit praise on my lips and obedience in my living. When this happens, worship takes place.”

 

“Because God is the subject who acts upon me in worship, my participation is not reduced to verbal responses or to singing, but it is living in the pattern of the one who is revealed in worship.”

 

“One crisis of Scripture is that we stand over the Bible and read God’s narrative from the outside instead of standing within the narrative and reading Scripture as an insider.”

 

“The mystery of God’s presence has been lost and replaced with an empty symbolism. Many Christians and even pastors and leaders of the church have acted indifferently to God’s presence at the Table, transferring it to music or dropping it completely.”

 

“The whole act of worship says, ‘God, we are here to remember your story and to pray that the whole world, the entire cosmos, will be gathered in your Son and brought to the fulfillment of your purposes in him.’”

 

“Worship instead of being a rehearsal of God’s saving actions in the world, and for the world, is exchanged for making people feel comfortable, happy, and affirmed.”

 

“Worship, no longer the public prayer of God’s people, becomes a private and individual experience. Beneath the privatization of worship is the ever-present individualism of our culture. This focus on the self results in prayers that are concerned with my life, my needs, my desires – prayers that seem indifferent to the needs of the poor and the problem of violence and war that devours nations and societies and ignores the works of God in Christ to bring to an end all evil, death, and sin.”

 

“Nowhere in Scripture or in the history of the church have hymns and songs ever been held as a replacement for Word and Table.”

 

“Word and Table remain the God-ordained way to remember God’s saving deeds in history and anticipate his final triumph over death and all that is evil. So if you want to do ancient-future worship, learn God’s story and do it in Word and Table and use hymns and songs for responses not only from the great treasury of the church through the centuries but also from music that is current.”

 

[1] All thoughts and quotes taken from Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker 2008).

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Aug 20 2018

8 Ways Nostalgia May be Killing Your Church

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memoryNostalgia is sentimental remembrance of previous times or significant events that continue to stir happy or meaningful personal recollections. It can be a healthy time of reflection as long as its primary purpose is to remind how the past laid the foundation for the present and future. If, however, those remembrances result in an excessive yearning and compulsion to return to the “good old days,” then nostalgia may be killing your church.

The word nostalgia is derived from the two Greek words: nostos, meaning homecoming, and algos, meaning pain. The medical professionals who coined the word in the late 18th century were describing an emotional and physical condition, not the current meaning of wistful thoughts of earlier times. In its original definition, nostalgia was viewed as a crippling condition that rendered sufferers incapacitated by despair or intense homesickness.[1]

Nostalgia was considered a legitimate reason for voluntary release from military service even until the 1860’s. If a soldier became too overwhelmed by thoughts of home or the life he left behind, his abilities for service could be compromised.

Nostalgia in reasonable doses can provide a sense of comfort. But too much can have a negative effect perpetuating the belief that an earlier time is preferable to present day conditions. Getting caught up in feelings about a more ideal past can make the present seem unfulfilling by comparison.[2]

Excessive nostalgia can cause a church to romanticize, idealize and even embellish the past in an effort to coerce present generations to perpetuate that past for future generations. Consequently, extending those previous practices can limit a congregation to its past performance, potentially killing its present and future efforts. The end result is a church that attempts to re-create divine moments, events or even seasons based almost completely on the idealized emotions that were originally stirred.

8 Ways Nostalgia May be Killing Your Church

  • Attempts are made to canonize one particular style or genre of music.
  • Conversations begin with Do you remember instead of Can you imagine.
  • An inordinate amount of time is spent planning and preparing reunions and anniversaries.
  • Much more time is devoted to protecting old practices than praying for and considering new ones.
  • Leadership vision seems to look in the rearview mirror for the way things used to be instead of out the window for the way things could be.
  • Budgets are absorbed on the physical and organizational institution without considering its mission.
  • Leaders are selected or dismissed according to how they can best represent and perpetuate the past.
  • Resurrecting or recreating older actions to reflect former generations always takes priority over newer actions to impact future generations.

Nostalgically designing the vision, practices, procedures and future of your church to replicate the Good Old Days usually succeeds in getting it half right…it is old.

 


[1] Adapted from http://www.wisegeek.org

[2] Ibid.

 

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Aug 13 2018

Why Worship Leaders Should Get A Real Job

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jobNow that I have your attention, leading worship is indeed a worthy calling and vocation that requires preparation, education and skills. And yes, it is a real job. But what if opportunities were no longer available for you to lead worship vocationally?

What if you needed to voluntarily or were forced involuntarily to step aside from vocational worship leadership for an interim or extended period of time? Or if you’re a student preparing for vocational worship ministry, what if you don’t immediately land a position after graduation? What would or could you do in these instances to provide for your family while still responding to God’s call? Some of us have found ourselves in similar situations only to realize we are not trained or are not training to do anything else.

Statistics show that 95% of churches average 350 or less in worship and that 75-80% of those churches average 150 or less. Forced terminations, unhealthy staff relationships and ageism are all unfortunate realities. Church planting movements have amplified the need for additional volunteer and part time worship leaders. And even larger, more established congregations are no longer realizing the need for full-time worship and music staff as they try to stretch their financial resources to accommodate their various generational, cultural, ethnic and multisite needs.

With those statistics in mind, the present and future reality seems to indicate that the need for full-time music and worship leaders is on the decline. In other words, it appears there are and will continue to be more prepared full-time leaders than full time places for them to serve. So reality dictates that while preparing for worship leadership we should also be learning additional marketable skills.

For this to occur, we must first acknowledge that a call to bivocational ministry is not a mediocre calling but is in fact a call to full-time ministry that just happens to occur not only when we gather at church but also when we disperse to the marketplace. We must also encourage our Christian colleges and seminaries to more actively challenge students preparing for worship ministry to also learn other vocational skills. We must agree that it is never too soon or too late to learn something new. And we must affirm that learning an additional skill doesn’t compromise our calling but in fact enhances it by allowing us to communicate in other worship languages beyond choirs and chord charts.

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Jul 30 2018

Worship Tourists or Travelers?

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touristsAre we worship tourists or travelers?

Travelers willingly immerse themselves in cultures even when they are radically different from their own. They adjust instead of expecting others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a traveler is never inconvenient because it encourages discovery. Travelers always dig deep and ask who and why.

Tourists sample other cultures as long as they aren’t too different from their own. They expect others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a tourist is always inconvenient because it discourages pleasure and preference. Tourists only scratch the surface and ask what, when and how much.

Tourists go where the map takes them, are there to experience the sites, aren’t willing to stray from their native language and always ask “what’s in it for me.”

Travelers go where the road takes them, are there to understand the sites, attempt to learn new languages and always ask “what’s in it of me.”

The ultimate destination for tourists and travelers may be exactly the same. But the connection for the tourist is usually shallow and fleeting. And the connection for the traveler is always deep and continuous. The tourist endures the journey in order to reach the destination while the traveler values the journey as part of the destination.

So what if we approached worship as travelers on a continuous journey instead of tourists visiting a site for pleasure?

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Jul 9 2018

Jumping Off Worship Bandwagons

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bandwagonThe bandwagon effect occurs when the application of beliefs, ideas, fads or trends increases the more others have already adopted them. Churches even have the tendency to espouse certain behaviors, styles or attitudes just because it seems like everyone else has. The implication being that since it is right for so many others, it must also be right for us.

During the 19th century, an entertainer named Dan Rice traveled the country campaigning for President Zachary Taylor. Rice’s bandwagon was the centerpiece of his campaign events, and he encouraged those in the crowd to “jump on the bandwagon” and support Taylor. The campaign was so successful that Taylor was elected president, prompting future politicians to employ bandwagons in their campaigns in hopes of similar results.

Jumping on the bandwagon explains why there are fashion trends. During sports championships it is evident in the increase of fans. In health it shows up in the latest diet or fitness craze. In social media it is obvious in the number of app or platform downloads. In music it is measured by iTunes rankings. And in worship it is usually apparent in the song set.

The theological implication of a church that jumps on the latest worship bandwagon is that it sometimes ignores or overrides its own beliefs, cultures or contexts just because others are doing it. So instead of encouraging spirit and truth worshipers it creates liturgical lemmings.

Congregations often need to and should be making regular worship adjustments. And some of those changes might actually include the latest songs, styles or technological tools. But instead of immediately jumping on the newest worship bandwagon because it seems like everyone else is, congregations should instead discern and determine their worship adjustments through praying together, reading Scripture together, coming to the Lord’s Table together, mourning together, rejoicing together, sharing ministry together, playing together and then singing their song sets together.

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Jun 25 2018

Patriotic Worship Idolatry

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patrioticI love, appreciate and revere my family. I am grateful I get to be their husband and dad. I think about them often and can’t imagine life without them. Our story is something I enjoy celebrating and telling others about every chance I get.

As a result of that gratitude, what if I used the worship service this Sunday just to exalt my family? So instead of worshiping the Father that day, what if I planned the entire service to celebrate and sing the praises of my family?

If idolatry is extreme devotion to anyone or anything that isn’t God, then replacing the cross with the American flag as the primary symbol of our worship can cause us to stray into idol territory. Christian worship is stepping into God’s story instead of expecting Him to step into ours. His story and our response to that story transcends Americanism.

So in the context of a patriotic worship service, we must be careful to ask whom or what we are worshiping when we sing, “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.”

Harold Best wrote, “There is one fundamental fact about worship: at this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone – an artifact, a person, an institution, an idea, a spirit, or God through Christ.”[1] Best continued with, “All worship outside the worship of God through Christ Jesus is idolatrous.”[2]

We can still pay homage to our country and those who sacrificed so we can live freely without ignoring Christ who sacrificed so we might live eternally.

 


[1] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 17.

[2] Ibid., 163.

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Jun 18 2018

15 Questions for Every Worship Song Set

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questions  for Every Worship Song Set

 

  • Will it encourage passive spectating or active participating?

 

  • Does it include a healthy balance of familiar and new?

 

  • Does it include expressions that are both celebrative and contemplative?

 

  • Are its texts theologically sound and do they affirm scripture as foundational?

 

  • Is it culturally and generationally appropriate for those who will be present?

 

  • Does it include not only our words to God but also God’s words to us?

 

  • Will acceptable physical actions be articulated or implied?

 

  • Will it give participants an opportunity to connect with each other?

 

  • Will its musical or technological elements direct our attention away from God?

 

  • Are its melodies singable and ranges accessible?

 

  • Will guests be able to participate in it without confusion?

 

  • Will it speak and teach the Gospel?

 

  • Will it engage more than just emotions?

 

  • Are we giving it too much responsibility for the entirety of our worship?

 

  • Will it encourage participants to be doers of the word and not just hearers only?
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May 14 2018

Worship Service Music Isn’t the Undercard

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setting the tableThe purpose of our worship service music isn’t to prepare our hearts for something else. It’s not the undercard before the main event. It isn’t the warm-up band before the headliner. So it doesn’t just set the table for the sermon.

Paul exhorted the saints at Colossae to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly by teaching and admonishing each other through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It doesn’t sound like Paul thought its only purpose was as the supporting cast.

Teaching proclaims or makes something known by precept, example and experience. It exhorts, instructs, exposits and applies. And it communicates to us and through us.

Admonition urges us not just to hear but do. It reproves, advises and counsels in order to correct our thinking. It encourages us to right what is wrong in order to redirect our attitudes and motives.

Our worship songs won’t be seen as just service starters if they quicken the conscience through the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God and devote the will to the purpose of God.[1]

So the theology we sing is not just an appetizer before the main course when it teaches and admonishes us to be doers and not just hearers.

 

[1] Adapted from a quote by William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-44.

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Apr 30 2018

Sunday Worship: Culmination or Commencement?

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dichotomyA dichotomy is a contrast or clear distinction between two things. It is a classification divided into two mutually exclusive and sometimes even contradictory groups like war and peace or love and hate.

The basic understanding of the words commencement and culmination when taken at face value is also a dichotomy. Commencement means a beginning or start and culmination means to end or arrive at a final stage.

But when these two words are considered with regard to the Sunday worship service, what seems mutually exclusive is actually collectively exhaustive. Is the Sunday worship service the commencement of the worship week? Yes! Is the Sunday worship service the culmination of the worship week? Yes!

As a commencement, the Sunday service sings our congregations out. The worship when we gather may be great, but until it impacts those we come into contact when we disperse it’s incomplete. Sunday worship as a commencement is when we are so awakened by God’s purpose in the world that we can’t wait for the service to end so we can actually share it with others.[1]

As a culmination, the Sunday service sings our congregations in. Gathered worship is then an overflow, continuation and celebration of the worship that has already been occurring during the week. Sunday worship as a culmination is when we have been so awakened by God’s purpose in the world that we can’t wait for the service to begin so we can actually share it with others.[2]

So Sunday is the day we both gather them for worship and disperse them to worship.

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 13.

[2] Ibid.

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Apr 9 2018

Songs God Doesn’t Like

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AmosThe psalmist points out that God takes pleasure in the praise of his people through music… “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:3-4). Zephaniah wrote, “the Lord our God is with us and rejoices over us with singing” (Zeph 3:17).

So if the Father takes pleasure in our praise and sings over us, are there certain musical genres in which he takes more pleasure or conversely, doesn’t like? Many of us assume the styles we like and don’t like answers that question.

Scripture, however, speaks to the issue of worship that is or isn’t pleasing to God on several occasions. The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Amos criticized music that is ego driven when he wrote, “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want” (Amos 5:21-23 The Message).

The book of Isaiah indicates which songs God doesn’t prefer when the author writes, “The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).

So claiming to know what music God likes because he surely likes what we know isn’t what pleases God. Scripture reminds us that his pleasure is not contingent on what we sing at all, but instead the condition of the heart from which it is sung.

May the words of Paul be our prayer then as we sing our various styles of songs together, “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ – the Message – have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God” (Colossians 3:15-16 The Message)!

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Apr 2 2018

Communion: Please, Sir, I Want Some More

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CommunionOliver Twist and scores of other orphan boys toiled in the miserable existence of a workhouse. They labored long hours subsisting on three paltry meals of gruel, a watery food substance of unknown character offering little nutritional value.

On one occasion, the boys drew lots to determine who would represent them to ask for more food. Oliver was selected and timidly moved forward with his bowl in his hands to make the iconic request, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

One of the caretakers shrieked, “What? More?” And Oliver and the other boys were chased around the tables by a band of well-fed caretakers.[1]

Our understanding of symbolism at the Lord’s Table has degenerated into a substance of unknown character offering little nutritional value. We know we have a spiritual mandate to regularly observe it, yet often wonder if this is all there is.

So why couldn’t we ask for more within the parameters of our doctrines and denominations without being chased around the Table by a band of well-fed doctrinal caretakers?

For many congregations, observing Communion has become so routine that it no longer calls forth the reality it symbolizes. So there is a need to discover it again with such freshness that it would be like experiencing it for the first time.[2]

Asking for more might cause us to grieve and weep, but it also might cause us to celebrate and shout.

Asking for more means the remembrance is rarely manifested in the same way twice. And that’s why we return often.

Asking for more means we mourn Jesus’ death and burial, but also celebrate his resurrection and promised return.

Asking for more not only remembers how his sacrifice impacted our past, but also how it will influence our future.

Asking for more means that it’s not just Jesus’ story but also our story as we’re invited to step into his story.

Asking for more means we must actively engage, not passively observe.

Asking for more doesn’t change the physical characteristics of the elements, it changes us.

Once we grasp the magnitude of that symbolism at the Communion Table we’ll never again have to ask if this is all there is. In fact, we may actually receive immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

 

[1] Oliver Twist is the second novel written by author, Charles Dickens and was first published as a serial from 1837-39.

[2] Adapted from Kenneth Chafin, “Discovering and Preaching the Ordinances Again for the First Time,” in Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, ed. Walter B. Shurden (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1999), 129.

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